The Long Game

Salt Upon the Lips

Jonathan Harker staggered out of the darkened doorway like a drunk on his last legs. He clutched at the crumbling brick wall to his right with a trembling hand in an attempt to steady his frayed nerves. He attempted to breathe deeply in a effort to maintain his composure.

He did not succeed.

Lurching toward an open sewer grate, he collapsed to his unfeeling knees and repeatedly heaved his roiling, acid-filled guts up in a disgusting, involuntary evacuation.

As Harker lost the remains of his dignity crouching in the seedy depths of London, Abraham van Helsing materialized from the gloom behind him. Casually blotting his brow with a white monogrammed handkerchief, he spoke in an almost professorly manner as he tucked the damp cloth into his jacket pocket.

"Now, Mr. Harker, do you believe in the existence of vampires?"

Jonathan Harker did not respond, could not respond. Their innocent faces, their small bodies. Diminutive, gleaming vampire fangs. He had tried not to do it. Tried to avoid it. But the alternative . . . their sharp, gnashing teeth . . .

The two young forms had appeared to be huddled together for warmth. Shivering, whimpering. He had approached slowly, hand out in offered compassion.

"Children? Are you ill? Where are your p . . ."

They had turned and looked upon him, piercing eyes gleaming in the darkness. van Helsing behind him, shouting.

"Look alert, Mr. Harker! They are not what they appear to be!"

He had stumbled back, uncertainty and dread dropping a heavy lava rock into his already sick stomach. The impish young ones had advanced upon him, hissing in their childish voices.

"Now, Mr. Harker! Stake them now before they draw blood!"

Catching the attacking boy in the chest with a reflexive kick of his foot, sending him reeling back momentarily. And the girl with her thick curls . . . her exploding ashes covering his wooden stake and his soiled clothes.

"Again, Mr. Harker! He is upon you!"

Then the boy once more with his round face and his howling scream cut short . . .

Just as he thought his raw stomach had been purged completely empty, Jonathan crumpled forward. Retching again, more bile, more sickness from the depths of his rotten soul.

Salt, salt. He tasted salt upon his lips, mixing with the linger of acidity from his core. Dimly, He realized the salt came from the bitter tears streaming down his ash-covered face.

"Who . . . who were they?" he questioned tremulously.

The older man behind him sighed.

"Once upon a time, they were Browning's innocent children. I kidnapped them, used Grayson's blood to turn them, and set them upon their own father in recompense for my destroyed family."

Jonathan listened in horror, his mind threatening to break under the strain of the words slashing into him. Van Helsing continued talking quietly, calmly. As if these were all mere cold, hard facts in a scientific experiment.

"Then I burned the structure in which I had them trapped down around them. Though, apparently, they managed to escape."

He would hear, could hear no more. His mind was cracking, shutting down.

"You did well to dispatch them so quickly, Mr. Harker. Their guise was quite . . . misleading."

As Jonathan Harker continued to shake upon the dirty cobblestones, Abraham van Helsing smiled grimly within himself.

It was a wicked manipulation, to be sure. The black cruelty with which he had sought out Browning's former children for Harker to slay. The exacting arrangement of their procession through the darkened structure so that Harker happened upon them first, forced to confront them on his own. But, Abraham reflected, sacrifices must be made in holy war such as the one in which he now found himself engaged.

And now Harker shuddered, fully broken, upon the ground. When he arose, he would be ever so much more pliable. Ever so much more easily bent into a weapon against all vampires. Especially one Vlad Tepes. Alexander Grayson. Dracula.

"Be careful who you trust, Mr. Harker," van Helsing advised quietly. "The devil himself was once an angel."

Mina licked residual saltiness from her lips and rested her head contently on Alexander's smooth, bare chest.

They lay quietly together for a time before he managed to speak.

"I don't believe they taught you that in finishing school."

She grinned, tracing the flesh of his abdomen with her fingertips and responded quietly.

"No. Nor in medical university either, I must admit."

He smiled, gliding his hand slowly up and down the flesh of her arm, raising delicious goosebumps at his light touch.

"Most unlady like behavior, don't you think?" he ventured playfully.

"Oh most definitely, sir." she agreed. "Almost as much as falling in love with a four hundred year old man whose nighttime activities involve . . ."

She felt his muscles tense reflexively in dreaded anticipation and reached up to caress the line of his collarbone in a soothing manner.

". . . such amorous bedchamber adventures."

He relaxed at her selected words. Then he sat up slowly, a sly expression lighting his face.

"Ah. So you must think you're quite clever then. Do you, Miss Murray?"

She smiled cheekily.

"Yes, actually. I do, Mr. Grayson," she replied primly, matching his jaunty banter.

He smirked at her with a raised eyebrow.

"And skilled? Do you believe that you are skilled?"

She nodded and drew closer, whispering.

"Although, if I am to be honest, you are my first test subject of that particular. . . technique."

His smile widened further.

"All the more appealing then," he responded and she blushed, grinning.

He continued speaking while languidly maneuvering further down in the bedclothes.

"As it so happens, I am quite skilled and clever myself, madam. And if you'll allow me . . . I'll show you."

And he did. And he was.

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